Scourge of the Scoundrels
Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels
Close on the heels of the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, has come another attack of the Hindutva forces on the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students. A pattern in these episodes including the previous one, that of banning the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) in IIT, Madras is discernible: Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) accusing the students of anti-national activities, some BJP minister prompting the institutional machinery to bend into action and the latter crawling in compliance to precipitate it. In the previous episodes, the BJP Minister was the HRD minister, Smriti Irani who somehow internalized that her job is to saffronize the campuses and the institutions were the universities. This time none other than the home minister, Rajnath Singh, has been the minister and the ultimate monstrous force of police as the institution. All veils stand torn exposing the sinister agenda of the BJP to eliminate potential obstacles in its path of establishing the ancient brahmanical supremacist regime called Hindu rashtra. And they are out to poison the polity and use state might to accomplish it with impunity.
The implications are clear enough and beyond discussion. People lazily compare the situation with what prevailed in 1930s and 40s in Germany and Italy, when the storm troopers of Hitler and black-shirts of Mussolini beat up people on roads. But what is happening in India lately portends worse than Nazism and fascism. Because, the state today is far more powerful than Hitler's or Mussolini's, laced with technologies of precision surveillance and most importantly, matured to use liberal façade of democracy with fascist content not to show up ripples of repression anywhere.
Nationalism sans Nation
The sole point that is hampered upon by the hindutva camp, as their role models in Hitler and Mussolini did, is nationalism. They had accused Rohith and his friends of it and driven him to death. They are now baying for blood of the students of JNU calling them anti-nationals. Their entire claim is based on the slogans shouted in the meeting on 9 February. It is said that many outsiders had mingled with the students and shouted those slogans. They could well be the hirelings of ABVP to stage this drama of anti-nationalism. As anyone who has little knowledge of Left ideology could testify that such slogans with "Bharat ki Barbadi", "Allah o Akbar" or "Pakistan Zindabad", etc. will never be given by the Left. There is no hiding the fact that the Left has been protesting against the hangings of Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon as judicial murders and also supporting the rights of Kashmiris for self determination. The Democratic Students Federation, presumably the Left students' outfit, cannot just shout such slogans. Certainly it was not Kanhaiya, the president of the JNU Students Union, whose speech is in public domain, who did it.
Howsoever morally repulsive these slogans may sound to us; they are being shouted in Kashmir for many years. The claimants of nationalism ought to understand that India as prophetically alerted by Babasaheb Ambedkar is not firstly a nation. She could aspire to be one by ironing off many deep rooted prejudices based on caste, religion, race, and ethnicity, etc. The hindutva forces on the contrary have been aggravating this divide, foolishly imagining the ancient India was a nation. With this attitude, they already amputated arms of mother India in 1947 and now again creating conditions for further partitions. What could be the bigger harm to the unity and integrity of India? By their own definition, they thus become the biggest anti-nationals. No terrorist on earth can do more harm to this country than they themselves. If they want to learn what nationalism is, they should cast off their blind folds and go through Kanhaiya's speech that speaks of azadi for milling poor, Dalits Adivasis, women of this country. It can teach them what nation is better than their gurus had ever done. One may remind them that in addition to 'Muslims, Christians and communists' identified by Golwalkar to be the bigger enemies of Hindus than the British, there are Dalits and Adivasis too, whom they take for granted, can potentially turn the tables on them. Therefore, they had better discarded their jingoist patriotism and learnt about constitutional patriotism that teaches living with plurality and diversity in modern world, which is what our founding fathers envisaged.
Bogey of a Crime
While nationalism and patriotism do not have legal standing, 'sedition' stands on our statute books as a weapon in the hands of rulers to smother peoples' dissent. It comes through the Indian Penal Code first drafted by a rank colonialist, Thomas Babington Macaulay. Our (as well as Pakistan's) ruling classes adopted this colonial code while pompously declaring the new born regime as democratic republic. As is well known, The British had first used it in prosecution of Lokmanya Tilak and rampantly thereafter against the freedom fighters. The established enlightened opinion, which was even expressed by our Constitution makers, is that it is antithetical to democracy. But how could the rulers let go of their weapon so easily? Sedition law was kept on the statutes; the Supreme Court also having held it intra vires in the case of Kedarnath Das v. State of Bihar. The court, however, set the threshold for applying "sedition" at actual violence or incitement to violence ("spark to a powder keg") or subverting government, by violent means, through words written or spoken. This threshold definitely did not extend to punishing slogan-shouting. During the Khalistan agitation, the Supreme Court had struck down the prosecution case against Balwant Singh for shouting slogan like "Khalistan Zindabad" and had come down heavily on what it termed as immature and insensitive police actions, which could have created a law and order situation.
Obviously, the sedition Act will not apply to the slogan shouting, howsoever morally repugnant, on 9 February in JNU campus, least to Kanhaiya Kumar. But the police acting at the behest of the home minister had to arrest him, slap the charges of sedition (124-A) and criminal conspiracy. In the Indian judicial system, where the process itself is punishment, Kanhaiya may come out on bail but until then he has already suffered interrogation in police custody, judicial custody including the physical attack by the BJP goons. This process is grossly misused by the Police to harass innocent people. If one takes stock of the cases of this and other such draconian laws, which are routinely slapped on Dalits and Adivasis as Maoists and Muslims as terrorists, they are basically used to incarcerate them for years, waste their prime time in jails and drive them and their families to ruination before they are acquitted by the courts. No one ever questioned the culpability or noted the lack of accountability of police in blatantly misusing these sections against the hapless people most of whom do not have enough food to eat. Kanhaiya whose family subsists on his mother's monthly salary of Rs 3,000 as an Anganwadi worker, is made to fight his case against the mighty state for years to absolve himself of the fake charges. The ABVP, the big-mouthed leaders of the BJP, and the police would regale at the ruination of his career. In fact, if one goes by the standing interpretation, they are the ones who not only instigated violence but actually committed it inside the court premises in utter disregard to the judicial system and hence the Constitution, including the police who stood by as mute spectators, perfectly qualify for being tried for sedition.
The stability of India despite its diversity and widespread poverty is largely attributed to its liberal institutions inherited from the colonial regime. The Sangh Pariwar is out to destroy their character to bring in Hitlerite rule characterized by Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer (One People, One Empire, One Leader), which is echoed in their slogan of 'One Nation, One Culture, One Religion, One Language!'. Such a fascist paradigm needs only storm troopers to carry out the leader's writ and to keep people in compliance mode. Notwithstanding the constitutional constraints, the current regime has severally displayed penchant for it. Most institutions are already saffronized by installing the 'believers' as their heads. The manner in which the IIT, Madras conducted itself in the APSC episode or the Hyderabad University in ASA episode and the JNU in the current episode amply illustrate it. The entire matter of 9 February squarely fell within the domain of the JNU administration. But it allowed police to take control of the campus and incurred ignominy for the university.
Contrary to the pedagogic claim that Indian state has three legs, legislative, executive and judiciary that maintains its internal balance the fact is that the executive has always been in collusion with the political masters. The most visible and important arm of the executive from peoples' perspective is the police, which has always been subservient to them. But the manner in which the police at Patiala House court premises conducted themselves marks definitive qualitative shift. They stood by while lawyers and other activists belonging to the BJP mercilessly beat up students and journalists on camera. The BJP MLA OP Sharma, one of the several marauders, had temerity to repeatedly say on camera that if he had a pistol, he would have shot them dead. When on 17th Kanhaiya was to be produced in the court, the previous scene was defiantly re-enacted, this time Kanhaiya himself being grievously attacked. The BJP goons had declared that if he had got bail from the court, they would kill him. While the world was aghast seeing these scenes, the Police would file the FIR against unknown persons. Not a single BJP politician would see anything wrong in this naked show of hooliganism. Less said of the media, particularly the electronic ones, as the important institution of democracy, better it is. Almost all of them ran round the clock programmes that directly or indirectly fed into the argument of the state that the students indulged in anti-national activities.
In a way, it is good. The BJP is baring its own fangs and digging its own grave too.
EPW Column published